Amy

Ratmansky's Swan Lake at La Scala

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Hard to say how this all fits into the overall picture of the ballet, but neither dancer created much electricity or power. Both looked a bit "leaden" at times (his jumps, her turns). The eschappes at the end were a bit of a downer, as was the run off stage. That music is so thrilling, but little of it seemed realized here.

The gods know it's certainly different than the versions we usually see today -- it's astonishing to realize how many changes have been made "after Petipa." I'm very curious to see the whole work, to see these excerpts in situ, and get a better sense of their context and surroundings.

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Hard to say how this all fits into the overall picture of the ballet, but neither dancer created much electricity or power. Both looked a bit "leaden" at times (his jumps, her turns). The eschappes at the end were a bit of a downer, as was the run off stage. That music is so thrilling, but little of it seemed realized here.

I liked that he escorts her too. That soft tutu must be killer to turn in.

I thought they seemed a bit leaden too, but I wonder if it's partly the close-in camera angle. When you can see more of the stage it can make dancing seem more exciting.

The échappés at the end are a waste of a great music! However, I think they're meant to echo the entrechat quatre/échappé sequence Odette does at the end of the lakeside scene.

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The latest clip looks sort of incomplete to me. It comes off as a lot of filler moments. I know in 19th century opera singers had moments (not just in repeats in the cabaletta either) where they were expected to embellish the music. I wonder if that was the case in ballet in the 19th century also and that could explain why things changed over time. Without embellishments in certain places operas were snoozers. It used to be "against the law" practically to embellish Mozart but lots of research now shows that singers embellished his music too, and singers often will embellish, but many conductors in the 1980s only wanted things sung come scritto. If it wasn't written in the score, they didn't allow singers to sing it. But thankfully the pendulum has swung back to allowing embellishment and it actually makes the work better (the spirit of the work is livelier). I am a bit worried that notations and reconstructions could eventually do the same thing and repeat the mistakes in opera of the early 1980s.......

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Well as it happens I pulled out the invaluable book "Ballet's Magic Kingdom." Akim Volynsky actually saw Swan Lake danced by Petipa-era dancers. This is his review of Mathilde Kschessinskaya. I've bolded the parts where it's obvious that a prima ballerina of exceptional talent was expected to embellish with her own talents:

"There is no beautiful contour to her arch. A ballerina almost always dances facing the public rather than showing gliding, sharp, sparkling lines of action in profile. Despite a blindingly beautiful take-off, Kschessinskaya's dancing appears to be concentrated in one spot and thus creates the impression more of a frozen frame than of an inspired quiverg of forms to the melody and rhythm of the music. One doesn't feel psychological impetuosity in her flight. Moreover, this dancers does not depart from her toes, dancing all the time on pointe without either getting tired herself or feeling that she's tiring the spectator ... Her double and triple turns create a genuine whirlwind on the stage. In her solo dancing, in her leaps en avant, which are accompanied by the most difficult cabrioles, Kschessinskaya is unmatched."

He goes on to praise the M.K.'s fouette, which he calls the "apogee of Kschessinskays's art ... Without an internal movement, which has the same irrational character, the fouette would simply be a trick of mindless acrobatics. But in Kschessinskaya it is the finishing touch of her remarkable art, her rhetorical art which exists on a large scale."

With regards to Swan Lake Volynsky says:

"In Swan Lake, Kschessinskaya danced Odette and Odile, the daughter of the evil genius who looks like Odette. In Scene 2 act 1 there is a lovely grand pas of the swans in which the artist provides a series of beautiful and vivid poses. She radiates her with unusually painterly pirouettes avec attitude, which creates the impression of inspired, statuesque figures. Kschessinskaya dances the final coda of this act in a rapid tempo through which the passionate burning of her inner pulse is vividly conveyed.

In Act 2 K. dances a pas d'action. Her pantomime is superb. In contrast to the dancing, which does not always harmonize with the requirements of artistic measure, the play of her expressive face is of the most refined artistic quality."

I think this above description describes everything that's missing from the clips I've seen of Ratmansky's Swan Lake. Obvious that Petipa's dancers were amazingly charismatic, technically superb, and also good actors and actresses. I doubt there would have been any kind of dainty, lithographic quality to their dancing -- the shy glances, modest style and sweet hugs seems like a Ratmansky preference rather than "authentic" Imperial Ballet style. In these clips you see a Victorian restraint, whereas Petipa's dancers sound like they absolutely burned up the stage. That's what reconstructions can't create.

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I think this above description describes everything that's missing from the clips I've seen of Ratmansky's Swan Lake. Obvious that Petipa's dancers were amazingly charismatic, technically superb, and also good actors and actresses. I doubt there would have been any kind of dainty, lithographic quality to their dancing -- the shy glances, modest style and sweet hugs seems like a Ratmansky preference rather than "authentic" Imperial Ballet style. In these clips you see a Victorian restraint, whereas Petipa's dancers sound like they absolutely burned up the stage. That's what reconstructions can't create.

I think you put your finger on something important when you say "Petipa's dancers" -- it's easy for us to forget that these are performers from a different period, with different training and different skills. Virtuosity has a contextual element, and what seemed extraordinary in the 19th century was different than what is considered astonishing today. It's not that the dancers weren't as strong, or as fast, or as nimble, or as anything else so much as their context in general was different. One of the things that we've learned from the Stepanov scores was how "hard" some of the 19th century material was compared to our standards today. But it's hard in a different way than current work. We value other elements in a work today, we train dancers to excel in different aspects of the technique, we make work that showcases other skills.

One of the phrases that's going around lately to help explain our experiences of these new/old works is that we can't reconstruct the audiences of the past, but I think we need to look at it even more holistically -- we cannot reconstruct the entire context. We need to enter into these performances with that in mind. We're getting a look at another world, in the same way that a restored silent film gives us a look at the cinema of the past. I cannot tell you how thrilling I find all this, and how much insight I think we can get about the field and how it has evolved. In a way, it's like those commercial DNA tests that have become so popular -- they give people much more information than a collection of family stories and a few bad photos. These reconstructions can give us a much more detailed sense of our heritage.

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When I went to see the ABT Sleeping Beauty I went with an open mind and really did enjoy it a lot as I watched multiple performances, but I have to say the first night my thinking was, "This is nice to find out how it was maybe originally danced if the notations are indeed accurate, but not sure if I love it...." and then I saw Trenary in it where for me she made everything come alive and the rest of the cast was much more lively than the previous performance......so then I thought, "Well, this really does need dancers with personality and who are 100% dedicated to this undertaking."

And personally I think the performing arts have always risen or fallen due to the performers on stage. They make the work live and breathe. So I suspect in the 19th century it was common for choreographers to take the talent in front of you and tailor the choreography (or in the case of opera singers tailor the music or let them embellish or even import an aria from a totally different opera by a totally different composer.....IT HAPPENED!!!) and even adjust it and change it for the particular dancer in front of you. Afterall, you wanted the dancer to look good so the work looked good. Even in the ABT Sleeping Beauty you have Part doing a different variation than the other Lilac Fairies. So Ratmansky doesn't seem overly rigid. He probably understands you have to adapt and change things for some.

There are accounts of choreographers putting their feet down and dancers/singers making demands. I think I read that Petipa convinced Kschessinskaya to dance a variation the way he wanted by telling her that if she doesn't dance it the way it was normally danced, people will think she can't do it. Maybe it was another dancer. Not sure. Someone else might remember. But you had that sort of thing happening, but I am also sure you had divas not liking a variation and wanting a new one or wanting slight changes made and probably sometimes the choreographer gave in because it made sense (he didn't want her falling two times on stage). I don't think there is any black and white and all things that can happen do happen.

I think it is important to unearth and try to put the notated choreography on stage and let us all view it, and it is great fun to see these reconstructions, as Sandik says, to see where ballet was in the 19th century, but I also think we have to take it all with a grain of salt. Until time travel is invented we will never really know what went on. With that said, I am glad for a window into what was possibly what the 19th century saw.

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In less than two years we shall be celebrating the bicentenary of Marius Petipa's birth. I can not help thinking that it would not hurt any of us to have a better understanding of what his choreography might have looked like in performance before the celebrations begin. That way we will have a better idea of just what and who we are celebrating and why we are doing so.Now of course we can not go back to the 1890's and there is always a possibility that we might not like what we saw if we could do so but I do not think that is a reason for not trying to restore to the stage something that Petpa,Ivanov and Tchaikovsky might just recognise as their work or at least something closely resembling it.

Knowledge that a great deal of the choreographic text and scenario of Swan Lake has been altered over the years to accommodate fashions in performance style, "advances in technique" and political requirements leaves me curious as to what this ballet might look like if Petipa's narrative and floor plans were fully restored; the music was played at the speed expected by the choreographers and dancers adopted a period appropriate performance style. This would require dancers to abandon freeze framing poses, indulging their and the audience's taste for excessively slow tempi, extreme extensions and asymmetry. If we were to see performances in which the stager has restored the original narrative; the original characters; the choreographic text including mime and character dancing then we might have a real idea of Petipa's importance and why we are celebrating him. I am not sure that I would be that worried by an "over realistic" acting style which seems to me a minor detail in the great scheme of things.

Having just experienced a Bolshoi Swan Lake which was little more than an almost abstract evocation of Swan Lake with Odette and Odile reduced to supporting roles I am all for any attempt to restore a nineteenth century Swan Lake to the stage and I am looking forward to seeing Ratmansky's Zurich production next year.

It would be nice to think that a major company like the RB would respond to this interest in reconstructions by thinking very hard about the form that its new Swan Lake should take and attempt to restore the original act 1 waltz and get closer to the original performance style. In an ideal world the RB would have more than one version of Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet in its repertory each of which would be performed in the appropriate choreographic style. But that is another story and I know it is unlikely to happen.

If you are interested my Swan Lakes would be the new one that I have described and the version that preceded the Dowell production. The RB danced it into the 1980's and it was full of wonderful Ashton choreography beginning with the act 1 waltz and ending with his own fourth act. As far as Romeo and Juliet is concerned it would be wonderful of the company were to acquire the Ashton version of the ballet. I am afraid that its current owner is unable to mount it in a style that does it justice.

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La Scala is presenting the Ratmansky Swan Lake in Paris, and below is a French television feature on costume designer Jerome Kaplan. Although the focus is costumes--with some rather luscious close ups of the tutus including underskirts etc.-- there are also some glimpses of the dancing. Not more than has already appeared, but I found it rather fun to watch:

 

http://www.lefigaro.fr/sortir-paris/2016/11/07/30004-20161107ARTFIG00306-dans-les-coulisses-du-lac-des-cygnes.php

 

 

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PNB sponsored a lecture about Kaplan's designs for their production of Giselle and we got to spend time looking at seams and linings -- a geeky moment for my seamstress sister and me!

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The costumes and the choreography look stunning. How I wish someone would come out with a DVD of Ratmansky's Swan Lake...

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Your lips to the gods' ears.

 

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La Scala has not posted any casting for their July 2017 performances of Ratmansky's Swan Lake. Does anyone familiar with this company know when they typically post casting? I see they have listed Bolle and some guests for Onegin this fall. And others have noted that Bolle will be in Orange County in July for Giselle. Do you think it will be only homegrown talent for this one?

 

http://www.teatroallascala.org/en/season/2016-2017/ballet/swan-lake.html

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When La Scala came in Paris as well

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Too bad they're not bringing the Ratmansky Swan Lake to LA...

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Yes, that is a pity. 

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I have been hoping for a long time that either La Scala or Zurich would tour the Ratmansky reconstruction of Swan Lake to North America. When it became clear that wouldn't be happening anytime soon, I decided it was worth a visit to Milan to see it for myself.

 

I have seen just one performance so far and will see two more casts in the next few days. I strongly commend Amy's report opening this thread from July 2016. She has an eye for comparative details with other productions that I don't possess. So let me add a few impressions.

 

I wasn't crazy about the Sleeping Beauty reconstruction a few years ago for ABT at the Met, after three viewings in the first season. Maybe it was all those wigs or the struggles with demi-pointe or maybe that character in the last act with all the babies hanging from his costume. I'm glad it was reconstructed for history's sake, but have no interest in seeing it again.

 

This Swan Lake leaves me with a very different reaction. I loved it! Yes, it's historically valuable to have this reconstruction available. But it is also a great ballet to see afresh. The mix of familiar with so many surprising elements is a real joy. A few high points for me:

 

*Act I-Scene 1: The waltz for the large corps is just glorious. So much is unfamiliar, both in choreography and in the various grouping patterns. Discussions earlier in this thread seem to have concluded that this traces to the original and was not new choreography by Ratmansky. Siegfried's entrechats series was something I haven't seen before, but they bore no relationship whatsoever to the music, alas.

 

*Act I-Scene 2: This seemed like a much larger corps of swans, with eight very small girls who seemed to be students from their school (but with fine technique on pointe). Is the stage at La Scala particularly large? (I need to find statistics somewhere.) The corps seemed huge with lots of interesting patterns and additional steps. 

I had read that Benno helped with the white swan PdD but had never seen it. It's a bit jarring, as we know dancers today would have no trouble with the partnering. I did feel like there were gaps from what I expected in this PdD, but most of the key elements were there.

 

*Act II-ballroom: This seemed a lot more boring to me compared to what we're used to. The four princesses had very little to do. I miss ABT's Purple Rothbart (the best change McKenzie made). Clean, single fouettes (only 28, though). 

 

*Act III-lakeside: It seemed like there was a lot more interesting corps work than most other productions - patterns, steps. Eight were in black (something nobody has ever explained, that I can figure out -- a sign of mourning?). The jumps into the lake were anti-climatic - they run up the steps into what seems the ruins of a stone church and just disappear. You don't immediately realize they jumped into the lake until they reappear in a flying swan across the back of the stage, which actually seemed rather Disney-like to me. 

 

Music: The orchestra is terrific, as are the acoustics (to me, at least), with just a smattering of bad notes. Very brisk tempo throughout.

 

Mime: Quite a bit more than we usually see, but it was legible and not a distraction.

 

Costumes and sets: It all seemed very understated to me, compared to contemporary productions and certainly compared to the over-the-top Sleeping Beauty reconstruction. The princesses were in very low-key, almost downscale plain dresses. Some costumes were just bizarre, especially the lime green things for one of the group numbers in the ballroom Act. Somebody here wondered if the men's costumes were historically accurate. I don't think so! The 1950s film with Ulanova still had the men in those pantaloon modesty shorts. (I remember some reports that Nureyev hated those things and he defected in 1961). Thank goodness they were no where in sight in this version, but I wonder how much else was modified.

 

Home team dancers: None of their big names are doing this ballet this season (Bolle, Zakharova). I confess I never heard of any of these people doing the leads (Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko on Saturday night). But I think that's for the best for this reconstruction -- the big names don't have the usual star turns of contemporary productions, although the leads did take quite a few bows during the performance, staying (mostly) in character.

 

Technique: I did notice several demi-pointe turns that I didn't expect, but this company seems more comfortable with them than the ABT dancers. They had plenty to work with in the entrechats, etc. and it didn't seem easier overall than what we're more familiar with. 

 

Recording: La Scala has several DVDs out, especially with Bolle. I wonder if they'll tape and release this one. Perhaps they don't think it would sell enough to recoup costs. Too bad. I wonder if it will ever make it to North America. Perhaps it's a tough sell given that almost every other company already has a Swan Lake!

 

 

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1 hour ago, California said:

I have been hoping for a long time that either La Scala or Zurich would tour the Ratmansky reconstruction of Swan Lake to North America. When it became clear that wouldn't be happening anytime soon, I decided it was worth a visit to Milan to see it for myself.

 

I have seen just one performance so far and will see two more casts in the next few days. I strongly commend Amy's report opening this thread from July 2016. She has an eye for comparative details with other productions that I don't possess. So let me add a few impressions.

 

I wasn't crazy about the Sleeping Beauty reconstruction a few years ago for ABT at the Met, after three viewings in the first season. Maybe it was all those wigs or the struggles with demi-pointe or maybe that character in the last act with all the babies hanging from his costume. I'm glad it was reconstructed for history's sake, but have no interest in seeing it again.

 

This Swan Lake leaves me with a very different reaction. I loved it! Yes, it's historically valuable to have this reconstruction available. But it is also a great ballet to see afresh. The mix of familiar with so many surprising elements is a real joy. A few high points for me:

 

...

 

*Act I-Scene 2: This seemed like a much larger corps of swans, with eight very small girls who seemed to be students from their school (but with fine technique on pointe). Is the stage at La Scala particularly large? (I need to find statistics somewhere.) The corps seemed huge with lots of interesting patterns and additional steps. 

I had read that Benno helped with the white swan PdD but had never seen it. It's a bit jarring, as we know dancers today would have no trouble with the partnering. I did feel like there were gaps from what I expected in this PdD, but most of the key elements were there.

 

...

 

*Act III-lakeside: It seemed like there was a lot more interesting corps work than most other productions - patterns, steps. Eight were in black (something nobody has ever explained, that I can figure out -- a sign of mourning?). The jumps into the lake were anti-climatic - they run up the steps into what seems the ruins of a stone church and just disappear. You don't immediately realize they jumped into the lake until they reappear in a flying swan across the back of the stage, which actually seemed rather Disney-like to me. 

 

...

 

Recording: La Scala has several DVDs out, especially with Bolle. I wonder if they'll tape and release this one. Perhaps they don't think it would sell enough to recoup costs. Too bad. I wonder if it will ever make it to North America. Perhaps it's a tough sell given that almost every other company already has a Swan Lake!

 

 

 

Oh, I am so jealous of your experience here!

 

Thanks for the details!  There is a recording of a pas de deux with a Benno -- an early Royal Ballet film with Fonteyn as O/O (it's not An Evening with the Royal Ballet, though I cannot remember off the top of my head what the title was).  I'm not sure when they stopped performing that version of the work, certainly by the time Nureyev showed up.

 

I love the comparison to Disney, but I think those kind of apotheoses endings are much closer to the deus ex machina affects of the 17th and 18th century than they are to Tinkerbell.

 

And yes, DVD please!  I don't need a star cast for this, though they likely think they need one to sell it...

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the new report California. Unfortunately, I don't anticipate having the chance to see this production anytime soon. 

 

I enjoyed the Ratmansky Sleeping Beaty but have been skeptical I would enjoy 'period' dancing in Swan Lake. Even so, the restoration of the libretto and much of the Petipa/Ivanov choreography, I would very much like to see. 

Edited by Drew

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On 7/13/2016 at 9:31 PM, Drew said:

La Scala posted coda of Act III (Ballroom scene) pas de deux:

 

 

Let's note that even the 32 singles can be difficult to achieve if they are danced to the correct music speed-(as in this clip). Here the ballerina goes slower than the music, hence only being able to do 26, which she ends with triple pirouettes.

ABT's suicide scene is still way more effective with the cliff-jump in high profile.  In this clip the ballerina quite disappears in that black hole, which is placed too low to the spectator's view.

The white swans costumes are exquisite. 

 

 

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14 hours ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

 

Let's note that even the 32 singles can be difficult to achieve if they are danced to the correct music speed-(as in this clip). Here the ballerina goes slower than the music, hence only being able to do 26, which she ends with triple pirouettes.

ABT's suicide scene is still way more effective with the cliff-jump in high profile.  In this clip the ballerina quite disappears in that black hole, which is placed too low to the spectator's view.

The white swans costumes are exquisite. 

 

 

 

I never count the number of fouettes (it seems impolite to me) and I have discovered I prefer well executed singles to multiples which never seem to fit the music (unless danced (in my experience) by Momoko Hirata of BRB who does them so fast the orchestra has trouble keeping up with her!

 

Thanks for linking the clip Christian - I love the tutu!

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Timofej Andrijashenko is fabulous! 

 

I don't count fouettes either, but I do focus on what they look like.  Singles or with adding doubles, etc., they can be breathtaking if done beautifully.
I would never want to see them replaced with something else.  An exception.... I saw Natasha Markarova's first DonQ pas with ABT and she could barely get eight fouettes done.... but she then continued to the music with the most incredible stage leaps I had ever seen (pre Osipova....).   

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What I find amusing is that EVEN 32 singles-(as with the posted clip)- are quite a hard task for the ballerina if the conductor goes with the appropriate speed-(which is the case in the clip). I have the feeling that dancing scores have had a tendency to go slower as years passed, to make room for more refined poses...better, more refined body positions...placement correctness etc. Sometimes we see midcentury dancers dancing somewhat sloppier, but definitely faster and in most cases- (IN MY OWN OPINION)- way more exciting. If Legnani and Kshessinskaya were able to really achieve this 32 fouettes to the original music speed and back when pointe shoes were not even close to our modern day bricks, then well....it is quite a marvel, even more considering the struggle we see our modern ballerinas have with said sequence. 

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